Congressmen demand answers on lobbying conducted with stimulus, anti-obesity grants

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The idea of government money going toward efforts to lobby the government sounds like some type of joke, but it’s not.

Since March 2010, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have received $230 million in obesity prevention grants under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative (CPPW), a program established in the massive 2009 stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to public records, however, money from some of the CPPW grants and also from the Community Transformation Grants (CTGs) — another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program established to bolster to the CPPW’s efforts — have been and are being used to lobby local governments in support of policies including sugar and soda taxes.

In a hearing to examine President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health that she knew of the lobbying efforts but that they were acceptable — because the lobbying was taking place at the local level, and because the language governing the grants restricted grantees only from lobbying the federal government.

She went on to add, however, that under the proposed budget local lobbying would be prohibited.

“The original language that has been part of the law that we have administered and had our grantees administering, applied to grantees lobbying the federal government,” she said.

“That has been prohibited. That is part of the underlying law. What was added to our appropriation bill in 2012 and what I was trying to explain, is that no new prevention grants have been issued under this new language and we are re-training grantees, is that a prohibition for grantees to lobby at the local level or the state level is now an additional piece of the law that was not part of the underlying statute.”

“So that is new,” she continued. “We will administer the directives to grantees to comply with that. There have been no funds that have been issued under the new law and I think the pages of examples which began to be recited were grantees who are lobbying at either the state or local level, not lobbying the federal government.”

According to Kentucky Republican Reps. Ed Whitfield and Brett Guthrie, lobbying with taxpayer money is illegal regardless of the level of government. In a letter the pair sent to Sebelius last week they cited multiple federal laws which prohibit the use of tax dollars to lobby any level of government. For instance, they referenced Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1913, which states:

“No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy or appropriation …”

They also pointed out that both the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Health and Human Services have guiding regulations which prohibit grants and grantees from going toward influencing government policy.

In light of the discrepancy Whitfeld and Guthrie requested that Sebelius clarify her interpretation of these anti-lobbying regulations.

“[W]e urge you to launch a full investigation into and accounting to determine whether CDC grantees, specifically those receiving Community Transformation Grants or Communities Putting Prevention to Work Grants, have misappropriated federal tax dollars for lobbying activity,” they wrote.

HHS did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

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